Goran Stolevski Delivers a 19th Century Slice of Life, with Macedonian Shapeshifting Witches.
You Won’t Be Alone is the assured feature debut by Macedonian-Australian filmmaker Goran Stolevski that hits theaters Friday April 1st after its premiere at Sundance. It’s a foray into the well worn genre of folk horror by way of witches and witchcraft that manages to feel both completely original yet strikingly familiar. Set in an isolated mountain village in 19th-century Macedonia, the film begins with a 200 year-old witch known as Old Maid Maria (Anamaria Marinca) collecting on a debt, which happens to be a female infant — Nevena (Leontina Bainović). The mother, desperate, not to lose her daughter, convinces the witch to allow her to raise Nevena to her 16th birthday to deliver a possible protégée to the witch. In an effort to hide her daughter, she hides her in a cave that is considered to be hallowed ground and raises her in isolation. But the teenage Nevena (Sara Klimoska) is eventually found and taken in by Maria, who makes her inhuman and blesses her with magic.
Maria’s attempts to teach Nevena to use her power, while also imparting her nihilistic worldview on the good-natured and simple girl, only frustrates the witch, who can’t seem to get through to her student. Hoping some real life experience will teach her to hate humanity as much as she does, Maria abandons Nevena, leaving her to fend for herself at the mercy of humanity. These witches are not only unable to be killed, but also have the ability to shapeshift into another person, using their dead remains to transform into them. This story mechanism allows Nevena to then take the form of several people — men, women, and children experiencing and falling in love with the mundaneness of humanity by living these people’s lives for them. Along the way, Maria visits Nevena and grows jealous of her ability to lose herself in this melancholy, destroying anything her loves — thus closing that chapter and forcing her to start over.
Overall, the film is an exploration of the human condition, and of nature versus nurture, as two unhumans play this game through the decades, using the lives of the humans unfortunate enough to be around them. It’s a rather audacious premise, given that the role of Nevena is played by several different actors who all manage to turn in a consistent and moving performance that makes the narrative work and thoroughly engages the viewer on a multitude of levels. You Won’t Be Alone is a dreamy slow burn punctuated by grotesque moments of bloodshed and sadness which illustrate the best and worst of humanity. Given that the folk horror sub-genre has been bursting at the seams recently, Stolevski has delivered a rock solid entry that will no doubt become a beloved film in the canon going forward with its unique Macedonian take.